Thursday, December 13, 2012

Punggol East - The Touchstone of PAP's Waning Star

It's a bolt from the blue. The shocking news of the sudden resignation of Parliamentary Speaker Michael Palmer as Speaker as well as MP of Punggol East SMC and PAP member over an extra-marital affair caught many, if not almost all, Singaporeans by surprise. With his exemplary public image, he is the least likely politician, in the public's mind, expected to be implicated in such a scandal. Let's hope Singaporeans will be magnanimous enough to give Michael Palmer and his unfortunate family the peace and privacy to rebuild their lives.

As a corollary of the sudden resignation of Michael Palmer as MP of Punggol East SMC, the question uppermost in people's mind is the holding of a by-election in the Punggol East seat vacated by Palmer. PM Lee Hsien Loong is now besieged by a dilemma over the question of whether  it is wise to call a by-election and how long it can be delayed. In the GE 2011, Michael Palmer as the PAP candidate won by 54.5 per cent of the votes. The Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian lost by obtaining a credible 41 per cent of the votes. It was a three-cornered contest and the Singapore Democratic Alliance candidate Desmond Lim only managed to garner 4.5 per cent and lost his deposit.

The options for the PAP are limited in view of the present political mood of the voters in Punggol East, or in any other SMC or GRC for that matter, which is now complicated by the Michael Palmer scandal. The PAP's margin of victory in Punggol East in the last election was not of such magnitude that it could not be surmounted by a WP candidate in a by-election in the present political atmosphere. So PM Lee is confronted with the onerous task of having to make a decision which could have repercussions one way or the other.

If he decides to go ahead with a by-election in Punggol East, whether in the near future or at a much later date, the chances of a PAP waterloo are predictable. A PAP defeat will have grave consequences to the so-called invincible reputation of the PAP as a political force. This will have a harmful knock-on effect on the prospects of the PAP in GE 2016. In any case, as things go now, the combined opposition, if united, can be expected to make a colossal dent on the veneer of PAP's political invincibility in GE 2016. They may be able, with political determination and unity, hopefully dislodge the PAP from power, failing which they will be able at least to capture a few more GRCs in GE 2016. The PAP can choose to remain complacent at its peril.

The repercussion caused by the refusal to call a by-election by PM Lee will be more likely to invite wide-spread animosity from the opposition parties and the public. The intense public opposition in connection with the procrastination by PM Lee to hold the Hougang by-election recently is but an example of what PM Lee can expect if he should be imprudent enough to call off the Punggol East by- election. Already opposition parties and members of the public have called on PM Lee to hold a by-election in the Punggol East SMC without delay. Any unnecessary delay by PM Lee will render him to the accusation of political deviousness and invite the intensification of public dissatisfaction. In the end he may have to give in to overwhelming public pressure and call the by-election. It's politically untenable to refuse Parliamentary representation to voters of Punggol East SMC.

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